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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Should people on public assistance be required to be tested for drugs? It may be one of the most hotly contested issues when lawmakers return to Frankfort next week. Today we hear from one man who is pushing for testing and the people it would directly affect.
Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster (36th District) wants to pass a law calling for drug and substance screening for any adult in Kentucky receiving public assistance. If the law is passed, mandatory random testing would be required for any adult that receives public assistance, food stamps, and state medical assistance.
Any law requiring drug testing would have a direct impact on Mary Lebens and Jaquelynn Albert, who both volunteer to clean Saint Stephen church 20 hours a week -- something they must do to receive about $850 a month in public assistance.
"I use it for gas and diapers and pull ups for my son and just trying to stay afloat," said Albert, who receives food stamps, transportation vouchers and $262 each month.
But Lebens admits some volunteers do try to "work the system" by volunteering for just one day -- but still getting paid for the entire month.
Lebens says she has seen "people coming in with gold on and diamonds and fur" -- which makes her wonder if they really need government assistance.
Supervisor Sandra Bartell, who once received welfare aid herself, says there are telling signs that money meant for needy families is going to the wrong place -- and she says she's in favor of drug testing for people receiving assistance.
"When I was on it, I spent the money on drugs rather than my kids, and what they're coming up with now is a great thing," Bartell said.
Rep. Lonnie Napier has pre-filed a bill plans take to the case to Kentucky lawmakers again this year, saying more than 600,000 people in Kentucky are on some form of welfare.
In the past, Napier has said that drug testing individuals who receive public assistance is no different than employers requiring job candidates to submit to a drug test.
Napier proposed a similar bill last year, but it died in committee. Napier says he's improved the latest version by cutting costs and coming up with a way to prevent children from being hurt by a loss of benefits.
"If you come in and a case worker checks you and you're positive, you'll have 60 days to get off them [drugs].
Although the bill has its supporters, it faces a tough challenge from the Kentucky ACLU, already preparing to fight it on the grounds that it's an invasion of privacy.
"It goes to an individual's expectation of privacy we believe welfare recipients have done nothing to lower that expectation," said Michael Aldridge with the Kentucky ACLU.
Lebens has another problem on her hands: she's only five months away from her five year 5- year public assistance cap.
Facing the prospect of no more benefits, she says the drug testing is not a privacy issue, but rather the difference between right and wrong.
"When you have people out here doing drugs, they get a check on the first [of the month]; by the second, they're broke," Lebens said. "That doesn't make sense. We're broke because we have to budget everything out -- it's either food or rent."
Similar legislation is being considered in 35 other states, and a Florida court has already ruled it unconstitutional.
The General Assembly goes back into session on January 3.